27 Integrating OER as Critical Pathway in Social Work Teaching Philosophy and Practice

Bala Raju Nikku

Case study writer: Bala Raju Nikku, PhD, Associate Professor, Faculty of Education and Social Work

Institution: Thompson Rivers University: University

Type of intervention: This case study aims to document the application and champion OER as a critical component of teaching, research, and service in seeking tenure and promotion by a newly immigrated, racialized social work faculty member in a Canadian university.


Founded in 1970 as a Cariboo college, the institution evolved over the years and became a university in 2005, incorporated through Thompson Rivers University (TRU) Act and amalgamated with Open Learning Agency. In 2020, the university celebrated its 50th anniversary and granted 80,000 credentials since its founding.

TRU adopted a new vision statement in the spring of 2020 following extensive consultation that Envision TRU held throughout the region. Community-minded with a global conscience, we boldly redefine the university as a place of belonging—Kw’seltktnéws (we are all related and interconnected with nature, one another, and all things)—where all people are empowered to transform themselves, their communities, and the world.

I arrived in Vancouver, Canada, in 2018 as a skilled immigrant on a permit to work as a social work faculty (tenure on track) at Thompson Rivers University, Kamloops Campus as a racialized scholar and a member of an equity-denied, visible minority community.

With about 15 years of administrative, social work teaching, practice, and research work experience from Asia, with a doctoral degree in the social sciences from the Netherlands, I bring a wealth of work and lived experience to my social work teaching and practice in Canada.

I acknowledge that I am a humble guest on the unceded lands of Tk’emlups te Secwepemc territory within the traditional unceded lands of Secwepemcúl’ecw (Secwepemc Nation). In this space, I continue to share knowledge and learn respectful ways of living, knowing, and being and working through teaching, learning, research, and service.

The territorial acknowledgment that I continue to practice is one of the ways to decolonize social work teaching and practice. Including OERs is another step forward in this process. Over these years, navigating many potholes and speed bumps, I have gained insights into the Canadian higher education landscape within the larger neoliberal institutional practices and the issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion for racialized faculty members. Since day one, it has been a steep learning curve, professionally and personally.


I teach social work from an integrated narrative, anti-oppressive, social justice, and critical consciousness framework. This approach aligns with the core mandate of the OER movement—that is, practicing open and critical pedagogy—providing affordable access to culturally and professionally relevant education.

Recognizing OER work valuable for the tenure and promotion (T&P) process is a persistent conundrum, as T&P rules and benchmarking vary widely across departments within the same institution. Nevertheless, thanks to the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) and the Faculty of Education and Social Work, I had the opportunity to attend the orientation sessions for faculty who are preparing for T&P. These meetings were valuable but, at times, increased the level of anxiety, as these sessions highlighted the need for meticulous preparation and a concrete plan to work and not to mention risking the job if the application is not successful.

I quickly understood some similarities but also huge differences between the procedures and expectations around seeking a T&P in Canada compared to the institutions I worked in Asia, especially Nepal. As a result of these reflections and thinking, I understood that spending untold hours toiling to submit a successful T&P application was not uncommon. I am not alone in this process. I was also aware that coming from more oral traditions and a culture of earned recognition rather than contracts and proving evidence, the task of seeking a T&P in a Canadian context will offer me many challenges and a steep learning curve.

I eventually submitted my T&P portfolio according to the university’s criteria, rules, and standards for tenure and promotion in 2022. As a nonnative, non-English speaker, I reassured myself that preparing the documentation for the promotion or tenure would be a very time-intensive, reflective process. I was constantly reminded of the risks of losing a job if my tenure application failed. I strictly adhered to the T&P guidelines and continuously verified and selected the best evidence to show how I met the standards. This diligence finally paid off, and I have been awarded tenure and promoted to associate professor beginning June 1, 2023.

Activities and Results

Over these years (2018 to 2022), I took opportunities to hone my teaching practices, research skills, and service areas in that I have strengths and made logical steps forward. In these professional development and excellence efforts, I discovered critical open pedagogy as one of many avenues that aligned with my teaching philosophy and a critical approach that helped me illustrate my accomplishments and productivity across teaching, research, and service, leading to a well-developed T&P portfolio.

I have integrated different activities into the T&P using the OER Contribution Matrix, a bottom-up model.

Contribution Evidence Research Teaching Service
Use of OER in my teaching Please see the curriculum outlines for the evidence, including the zero textbook costs statement. Yes Yes
Use of open access to research articles from journal and book chapters I enclosed a document that lists the open access journal articles and book chapters that were used in the course outlines. Yes Yes
Member, TRU—Open Education Working Group and Open Publishing Community of Practice (COP) I enclosed emails and grating award documents showing evidence that I am an active member of the COP and the OER grant, leading to the OER textbook work in progress. Yes Yes Yes
UN Sustainable Development Goals (UNDG) Open Pedagogy Fellowship in 2021 and contribute to raising awareness of the value of OER I documented the evidence of completion of the UNDG fellowship and the outcome: UN SDG Goal 16: Student Work. Yes Yes

I completed the CELT teaching fellowship from 2019 through 2020, which further helped me understand and practice curriculum mapping and aligning the course goals that include open pedagogical practices within the more significant institutional priorities.

My participation in the Open Education Working Group at TRU allowed me to join the open publishing and OERs communities of practice. Subsequently, I received an OER grant in 2022 to work toward bringing an OER textbook on international social work (SOCW4800). Writing this textbook is a work in progress. When the textbook is completed as an OER product, I continue updating the content of the text and ensure free and open access for TRU and students globally. I documented my work around this as a case to show evidence of OER’s adoption, adaptation, redesign, and application in practicing academic freedom, open scholarship, and reflective teaching practice.

I also documented my active participation and successful completion of the UN Sustainable Development Goals Open Pedagogy Fellowship in 2021, which led to a joint publication of an open press book with two USA colleagues from the same cohort of fellows. I provided the link to our press book as evidence in my T&P portfolio by providing the evidence and weaving them to show my commitment to OER practices and how they aligned with my teaching philosophy: UN SDG Goal 16: Student Work.

From 2018 through 2022, I revised and taught 13 courses, and more than 200 students have taken these courses. In addition, I practiced a zero-textbook policy by providing a set of curated OER and open access but library-licensed resources. By doing so, I argued that students could save about C$12,000 (200 students × $60 minimal textbook cost). I further argued that using OER resources and open books is a critical building block in tailoring knowledge to the diversity of students in our classrooms and reducing financial barriers. This is another example of how OER practices have been crucial to my teaching at TRU.

I then documented the formal presentations I made about insights that resulted in integrating OER into my teaching in various forums. For example, I gave an invited keynote in August 2020, titled Decolonizing the Pedagogy and Practice of International Social Work, at the International E-Conference organized by Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, National Mission of Teacher Training, and Mahatma Gandhi Fuji Guruji, Centre for Social Work, Mahatma Gandhi, Antarrashtriya Hindi Vishwavidyalaya, India. I also presented with other colleagues during the open education week at TRU (March 2021) titled “OER: More Than Open Textbooks Showcase,” which my peers received well. The invited opportunity to present my work shows evidence of an increasing sphere of influence of my work globally.

The word OER appeared 13 times in the T&P portfolio that I submitted. I believe that the T&P committee members have taken note of my reflections and arguments that integrating OER work in my teaching is critical to me in making my classroom a space for practicing equity, diversity, inclusion, and decolonization, resulting in the democratic classroom experience, which I have stated in my teaching philosophy. For example, in reviewing my portfolio, an external reviewer said, “Dr. Nikku’s interest in furthering their teaching skills is also attested by their attendance in several professional development activities; specifically, their involvement in CELT Teaching Triangle with an interdisciplinary team is very innovative. Dr. Nikku is working with teaching colleagues to strengthen inclusive education in Canada and South Asia. Notably, Dr. Nikku has contributed to the scholarship of teaching. For example, Dr. Nikku has received an Emerging SoTL Scholar Grant and Open Education Resource (OER).”

Through these roles and as an open education and critical pedagogy practitioner, I continue to learn and practice OER in my teaching. By doing so, I contribute to the OER movement at the institution.

I further argued, perhaps indirectly, if the overall purpose of tenure is to ensure academic freedom and provide enough economic security to make the profession attractive. Here I am as a racialized immigrant, a visible minority, who has practiced OER as a tool, strategy, and part of my identity that aided me in grounding myself and fulfilling the roles of a teacher-scholar.

The interactive learning between the classroom dynamics and myself, the teacher, and among the diversity of students has been a rewarding experience for me over these years. In addition, I am witnessing and proud that many more colleagues are championing the OER at TRU. I am collaborating with another colleague to pilot playback theater as an open, free, interactive nonscripted theater tool to facilitate equity, diversity, and inclusion in classroom teaching and dynamics. There is always a critical mass of people that is needed to bring change. As a result, slow but positive changes are happening at my institution, both policy and cultural change supporting OER as a critical building block that leads to crucial recognition during T&P evaluations and practices.


  • Recognize OER practices in T&P institution-wide guidelines.
  • Allocate and invest dedicated policy and financial resources to encourage the integration of OER in teaching, research, and service.
  • Create professional development events and opportunities to gain advanced OER practices.
  • Promote recognition and awards for championing innovations in OER.
  • Provide mentoring opportunities through the OER community of practice.


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Valuing OER in the Tenure, Promotion, and Reappointment Process Copyright © 2024 by Bala Raju Nikku is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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